(2)syl

DOWNfALL: Obliteration

 
053: The Hammer Falling [T-minus 6]
054: Demon Apocalypse [T-minus 3]     055: Obliterated [...]


Post: 04.16.2000 
Date: 12.29.2195 
Time: Evening

Continued from [p015]: Flight [T-minus 7]

The Hammer Falling [T-minus 6]

Uncomfortable only barely begins to describe the situation I'm in. 

Extreme peril might be better. 

I'm cheek-to-cheek with Phoenix.  Don't know if that's his real name or not.  Probably not, but I've lied about my name to people before so who am I to pound the gavel?  I'm on my stomach, my other cheek on the rough street, Phoenix is sprawled awkwardly on top of me, his weight making it a little difficult to breathe.  But Phoenix is not the problem.  Phoenix isn't the one making this situation uncomfortable.  No, it's the third person completing our trio. 

His name is Sahris.  The scythe shoved half a meter into the ground half a meter away from my nose is his.  He put it there.  The foot pressing into Phoenix's other cheek also belongs to Sahris. 

"Get the glitch off of me," I say, the words forced. 

The voice coming from somewhere above me is oh so calm and oh so confident, and rippling.  "Unfortunate that you ally yourself with this person reclining so lewdly upon you, my fragile amethyst.  Friends are to be chosen with care.  In this moment, I fear that you have chosen most hastily--and incorrectly."

Phoenix speaks, right against my cheek, his short breath moving across the side of my mouth, tickling.  His tussled hair fills my ear, irritating my lobes.  As he talks, the uncomfortable feeling grows.  "Sorry about this.  I really have no idea what his problem with me is." 

I want to move my shoulder against my ear to stop that tickling sensation, but my whole arm is trapped and Phoenix keeps talking.  "Bizarre person isn't he?  He's been talking like that the whole time.  Formal--and archaic in my opinion.  I'll bet he thinks he's better than all of us." 

I think about grunting a response, but Sahris speaks, suddenly kneeling close to our faces, but somehow still keeping that boot pressing down on us.  "Your beak opens often, little sparrow, and I am not sure that you even know what you are saying." 

"Oh, I know," Phoenix says. 

"Useless words from a confused and frightened mind," Sahris says. "You disappoint me in the extreme.  I must admit that I expected more from one of your legacy, one who has a tradition to uphold.  Why do you toy with your destiny as if it were that of a child?" 

Phoenix speaks to me this time, "See what I mean?  Where is he getting this j'aa from?" 

Sharis leans even closer now.  I can smell his proximity, the grit on his boot, the strangely pleasant odor of his breath, the liquid he used to wash his hair.  His sweat.  Nothing familiar about any of that...oh wait...yes there is.  One more smell suddenly becomes more prominent than any of the others.  Blood.  Its stench is thick and real.  Sahris smiles, looking directly at me, teeth white and perfect.  I get the impression that he is somehow controlling what I can and can't smell.  He wanted me to smell blood.  Of course this can't be true, but that look...that smile demands a different conclusion. 

"The bird and the gem," Sahris whispers, looking at us in turn.  "How appropriate.  Two things of great beauty, yet only one breathes and is alive.  But my allusion is not reality is it?  In this case, is not reality the prefect lie?  It hides the perfect truth, does it not?  Oh, I suppose both of you would refute a state of non-life currently, wouldn't you?" 

"Well," Phoenix begins, "I was dead once, and I would have to say that I didn't--" 

"You say you were dead, little sparrow?  Once?  Well, then you shall be again--by my hand, and by no other." 

"Sure, I can live with that, if you'll excuse the pun, but let the girl go." 

I let that comment slip because it's too difficult to talk.  Sahris is really putting the pressure on.  A few sharp gravel rocks feel like they're poking through my cheek.  A little longer and I'll be able to breathe through the holes they're making.  Mind flashes to Aran.  He brought some technomancers with him this time, along with...a few others.  A curious menagerie if there ever was one.  Then again, who I am to notice?  I've had wirewitches as companions.  Small ache at that particular thought.  JACK.  I wish she was here.  I need a hug, and the one Phoenix is giving me right now is not really doing it for me.  I need

a friend     a touch
           and

Just where the glitch is Aran?  I thought he was nearby.  And just where the glitch did he dig up this Sahris?!?  I can only describe Sahris as disturbed--in ways I've seen and in ways I haven't.  What I've seen, I wish I hadn't, and what I haven't, I don't want to imagine.  I think Aran tangled with him earlier today.  Don't know what happened between them, and I don't know why Aran is letting him stick around.  I'll have to query him later. 

Of course, my assumption is that I'm going to survive all of this. 

Again the tickling is in my ear, Phoenix speaking: "Don't worry I'll think of something to get us out of here." 

A harsh, grating sound.  It's Sahris pulling his scythe from the ground.  I watch as the weapon rises, revealing its thin edges to me a centimeter at a time.  No dirt sticks to the blade, and I can see my reflection looking back.  Self stares, holding my gaze, framed with strokes of blue.  The first time I've looked at myself?  It can't be, can it?  My image reflected in a 

    weapon | nopaew

and I don't like it.  It's not me.  I reject it. 

Then the scythe is up, out of my vision, out of sight, but the image of myself remains. 

Sahris speaks, "I suppose you think that I will make this a quick death?" 

"It'd be nice," Phoenix says.  "I have an appointment with my physicist in a few hours.  She and I are planning on experimenting with the laws of rela--" 

"Oh, I am afraid that I will not be able to oblige you, little flightless one.  I prefer a much different approach to death and dismemberment--one which I believe to be, oh how shall I put it?  Creative.  Yes, that is the word." 

"So you're the poet, and you're going to write my eulogy?" Phoenix asks. 

"Well said,"  Sahris replies, spinning that scythe. Whish whish whish.  "Quite right you are." 

"How cute," Phoenix says to Sahris. 

Wait.  Phoenix said something to me also, at the same time and in the same breath.  How did he do that?  Wait, what did he say?  Almost lost it there.  I think I felt his words more than I actually heard them, his lips moving against my cheek.  He said: Touch my stomach. 

Touch his stomach?  Why?  How the glitch am I supposed to do that?  One arm is crushed underneath my stomach, and the other is trapped between us, with my hand sticking out the other side.  The blood stopped flowing to my hand a few minutes ago.  Can't feel my fingers much less move that entire limb.  At least, I doubt it. 

The scythe has stopped spinning.  Sahris is speaking, voicings thick with a gloating intent.  "Red is such a glorious color." 

"I like light blue," Phoenix grunts. 

"Everybody has a little red inside them," Sahris says.  "Show me yours." 

"Oh glit--," Phoenix exclaims. 

Straining my eyes I see that he's pulled that scythe back and, oh, now it's headed down this way, but Sahris moved his foot from Phoenix's cheek and Phoenix lifts up slightly, and I send the command for my arm to move, but I'm not sure if it's working, only I felt the upper part of my arm move and I hear a soft thump, and just perhaps that was my hand hitting Phoenix's chest, his grunt sounds somewhere close to my ear, and then I hear a click and somehow Phoenix's arms come tight around my waist, and then we're rolling over, Phoenix on his back and me on my back on top of him. 

I can only take half a breath because I hear a faint hum and then my intake of air is cut off, my mouth covered by some invisible veil, a soft hand only nanometers away, and then there is a shimmering in front of my eyes and the sensation of a light cloth clinging to my body just outside my clothes, whisper mufflers over my ears, only one thought through my mind goes: personal pulse shielding, but my body jerks in involuntary reaction to that scythe coming down. 

curved
    death
        down
             to
             me

Scratch off another skinsuit is the ludicrous thought through my mind as the blade of Sahris' weapon punctures my stomach, slicing cleanly through my skinsuit first, and then through my body, burying its tip deep into Phoenix's chest. 

Only it doesn't. 

Instead, the blade never touches me.  It just--dissolves.  Before it comes into contact with my cringing body, the blade seems to spark and smoke in a violent shimmering.  Uncontrolled yell of shock from my throat goes nowhere but back inside my mouth, echoed through my bone structure.  Sahris' attack was powerful.  Virtually the entire blade is consumed by the thin layer of shielding covering my body.  I think all of the metal would've been destroyed, but Sahris appeared to pull his attack at the last nanosecond.

Sahris pulls back a stump of a weapon. 

Shield down.  I can breathe again.  I do, in and out. Wonderful.

Moving now, up.  Get up!  I break from Phoenix's grip and stand, examine self--cheek and right arm are bruised, large tear in right hip of skinsuit, glitch, can see some blood there, feel dirt on face and in hair, but feel okay, hearing that buzz again though--and I stare at Sahris, trying to focus.  Can hear Phoenixstaticgetting up behindstaticme, mumbling, fumblingstaticforstaticweapons probablystaticstatic

STATIC!!

I hurl myself at Sahris, vision blurring, and static blaring in my head.  I'm mad, blinded, and I collide with nothing as Sahris moves effortlessly out of my path, only felt the barest hint of his cloak on my fingertips. Missed!  I spin on one foot, gaze back to my prey.  I want brutal physical contact.  I want to hurt back.

Sahris' back is to me, so I attack.  My hand just touches his shoulder--up there--and then it grabs at escaping molecules.  So fast!  He moves so fast!  Then I'm up close and personal with Phoenix.  Couldn't stop, but Phoenix almost gets his arms up in time.  He's holding a weapon.  One arm comes around my back.  What's this, protectively?  Must be a reflex. 

"Back in my arms?" Phoenix asks. 

Glitch him.  I take a step to the side, the broken embrace. 

Turning, Phoenix on my other side now, Sahris is holding the remains of his weapon at Phoenix, pointing, accusing.  His voice is controlled as he speaks, one eyebrow raised slightly, "You just ruined what you cannot comprehend.  I cannot believe that you did that.  You have no idea what--I am quite upset you must know.  I just do not know what I'm going to do about you, sparrow." 

"Uh...oopsie?" Phoenix responds in the manner I'm beginning to attribute to him.  Still, he brought his weapon up, training it on Sahris.  I think there's something lethal beneath his surface, but maybe that's just the gun he has impressioning me. 

"What do you want with us, Sahris?" I ask, barely resisting attacking again.  The static wants me to.  I want to, but... 

Sahris lowers his accusation arm and turns his eyes to me.  "I am but a shepherd." 

"What is that supposed to mean?" Phoenix asks. 

"We're sheep," I say. 

Sahris displays teeth in a disturbing smile.  "Give the blue crowned lady a prize!  We have a winner!" 

"A shepherd doesn't kill his sheep--" 

"Ah," Sahris replies, "you understand so little, so very, very little.  You cannot understand though, that is not your place.  Understanding is for the shepherd alone, not for the sheep.  Sheep have no purpose save for obedience.  Why will you not obey?" 

I'm moving toward him.  Static.  Not swiftly, just with determination.  I hear Phoenix shift his feet, but he makes no move to restrain me.  He must've seen thestaticlook on my face.  I speak as I walk.  "Should not the leader have the interests of his followers in mind?  If he doesn't, he is not fit to lead." 

I'm almost to Sahris as he speaks, "You haven't considered one thing." 

"And that is?"  Almost.

"What if I simply do not care?!?"  And then Sahris releases his damaged weapon and grabs for me.  He succeeds, but I'm ready for him this time, landing two staticfuzzstaticbuzz enraged punches in his stomach before he can pull me too close to attack any more.  Pain immediate sets into my fists, but he grunts and exhales, and I see a look of...shock?  Surprise?  Pain?  I'm not sure exactly, but I like it.  He masks it quickly, but it was there.  Caught him off guard there.  No, that's not it.  He was expecting me to assault him, so his surprise was due to something else.  But what?  I hurt him?  Is that it?

I don't struggle; something tells me that it would be futile.  His hands are at the small of my back, pressing, supporting me almost tenderly, but his touch is revolting--spiders crawling on my skin--cringe my natural reflex. 

"You are ever so fragile, pretty one," Sahris says.  "I must remind myself, or I would be apt to break you into pieces." 

"Let her go, Sahris," Phoenix commands from behind me.  "J'aa eater!  It's me you want." 

How heroic.  Still I suppose it's nice of him.  Though I'm beginning to get the feeling that words are useless with Sahris, wastes of time and breath. 

"What I want is what I want, sparrow," Sahris says.  "Do not presume to know me and my desires!  They are my own!"  He sounds angry suddenly. 

His hands move up my back and to my neck, fingers all over the place, then just as quickly back down, and an unzipping sound reaches my ears, and now I'm struggling as he spins me around, holding me at the stomach with one powerful arm, facing Phoenix now, oh, I realize that my skinsuit is open in the back, down to the lower part of my spine, the corners of the suit at my now bare shoulders, my marked skin visible to his leering eyes. 

He utters a single unintelligible word.  To my ears it sounds like drifting.  But there's so much static that I could've heard wrong. 

Then he drops me.  I'm still struggling so I land awkwardly and off-balance.  I roll away and manage to stand, spewing every insult and curse I can think of in my enraged state.  He appears distracted, considering something. 

Phoenix rushes to my side, still leveling his weapon at Sahris.  "Should I shoot him?" he asks. 

"I should have known," Sahris says, looking at me.  "Your people always manifest themselves without warning.  Unexpected, but not unfortunate. Quite fortunate in fact, for you and the sparrow.  It appears that you are his salvation today."  He turns his back and begins to walk away, stooping to pick up the weapon that once was.  His back is to us, ignoring. 

Glitch that.  "Shoot the g'ekk," I say.  The static made me do it.  It's buzzing so LOUD I'll do anything to satisfy it. 

Phoenix barely nods, and multiple silverish streaks dart from his weapon.  Sahris sidesteps the first several blasts, but then a single beam hits the hand holding the handle.  His entire arm is flung forward, the ruined scythe flying from his hand.

He doesn't even pause, but continues to walk, bending to the ground only to recover his un-weapon once again.  And he continues away.  After a few seconds, I stop looking at him, too confused about the whole encounter to even think about it just now. 

Static fading...

I feel cold. 

"Here," Phoenix says, "let me help you."  Fingers at my back, at my skinsuit.  He's zipping me up back there. 

"Nice tattoo.  Very, um...nasty." 

All zipped up now, I turn to face him.  "Where the glitch is Aran?" 

"Don't know.  I think he went to check on some of those 'perfect people' he's got stashed over there.  Well, at least he thinks they're perfect.  I'm not so sure.  I mean, they look normal I suppose--no extra limbs or heads.  Still...I don't know." 

"They're not perfect," I say, "just pure." 

"Ah, yes, that was the word.  Pure.  Sorry."  Phoenix surveys the area.  "Do you think you'll be okay for a few minutes?  I need to check on something.  I'll be back if you want to talk about all of this Sahris business." 

"I'll be fine.  He didn't inflict any serious wounds." 

Phoenix nods.  "I'll meet you over by the Rusted Whale?"

"Sure." 

He leaves, moving off to "check on something."  I'm alone and by myself in the middle of the square--The Square In Which (2)syl And Phoenix Encountered Sahris.  Amazingly, the square is fairly unlittered.  Decorative artwork in the direct center of the square is the only item that sets it apart from the rest of the surroundings.  Tall structures--buildings and the like--tower all around me, dark and heightened unnaturally by men and women of past and present.  Those structures look down on me now.  There aren't as many as there were a few days ago.  The riots--can hear them in the distance and in the not-so-distance--have taken their toll on the city.  Aran told me they've been raging for two weeks now, unabated and unchecked.  No signs of an eye in this mad storm.  This isn't normal.  Undirected violence can't last this long.  Nobody stays mad at nothing this long.  It can't continue.  Can it?

Riot, the incorrect nomenclature.  I think it's become war.  But one with no purpose, and I think that's the worst kind. 

The square opens up on one side right onto the docks where the Rusted Whale rests like a dead giant.  No telling how long it's been there, unused and unusable.  What a piece of refuse.  Aran thinks he can fix it.  Well, that other technomacer--what's his name?--thinks he can fix it.  I'll believe that when my eyes behold it. 

Suddenly, I want to sit down.  Walking over to one side of the square, I do, next to one of those buildings leaning over me.  The sun, which had only been setting as Sahris attacked, is gone now.  Good, that ball of fire was a sickly red infected with graying streaks. 

Resting with my thoughts, losing track of time...

The Bleed haven't made it this far yet.  (Shiver)  It won't be too long.  I warned Aran and the others, told them what I saw.  Glad they believed me.  Of course, I'm not sure it really matters.  I don't think even Aran and those technomancers can do anything about The Bleed. 

As if my thoughts were projected, summoning, I hear footsteps approaching me.  Look up.  It's the knight of chrome--my knight of chrome.  Where were you a few minutes ago, oh knight?  Wait, it's darker now, more night.  How long have I been sitting here?  More than a few minutes.

The same as before, he's wearing that long trenchcoat.  It looks tired--a few more burns and holes now.  His boots clunk and grind on the street, crushing rocks into dust. 

"Glitch, where have you been?" I say.  It came out more forcefully than I intended. 

"Here," Aran says, dropping green food pellets in my lap, "you need to eat."  He stares at me for a second, then at the wall beside me, pausing, then he sits down beside me, bulky metallic forearms resting on his knees, compacted wings scraping on the building's surface.  His hair is jagged and all over, spiking downward and upward and out, falling at random over his firm face, shining red and black in the light of nearby lamps and explosion fires.  He lets out a stilted breath.  I can see wounds still unrepaired all over his exposed mechaflesh, micro-wire bundles exposed and fluid tubes leaking internally.  Recent battles have taken their toll--the price the warrior must pay. 

Food pellet enters my mouth, bitter.  "Where were you, Aran?" 

His head remains, unturning.  "Making sure The Pure behave themselves.  They're getting scared, and their fright is increasing with time. Every little thing is making them edgy." 

"Sahris attacked us.  Phoenix and me." 

I have his attention now, silver reflecting eyes turning toward me.  "Did he hurt you?"  Gray spheres flicking over my body, looking for red." 

"A little, but nothing serious.  He was trying to kill Phoenix though."  I tell him what happened, everything.  It doesn't take as long as I thought it would, but I'm more confused about it than ever.  Aran bows his head and closes his eyes when I'm done.  He only asked me a few questions during my telling, and he showed no emotion at my answers.  Not a shock. 

"I will deal with Sahris," Aran says silently, after a moment.  "He will learn."

"Aran," I say. 

"Yes, syl?" 

"Talk to me."  My knight.

Aran speaks in low tones at first, his lips moving minutely, methodically. He tells me stories.  He tells me stories of pure humans and impure wirewitches.  Of the conflict.  Of technomancers.  Of the man of string, that horrible abomination.  Of the war.  He tells me a little of numbers also--of five and three.  Of friends constructed more of metal than of man.  Of the struggle and the pain.  He doesn't tell me everything--he doesn't need to--but what he tells me pulls a thread of my heart, insistent and full of ache. Oh, such loss.  I think I'm about to cry.  Not for what he told me, but for how he told me.  Can't even really explain that to myself, but it happens before I can analyze it further.  Wetness on my cheeks.  Small streaks only, don't want to be out of control.  Release is brief, but the marks are there, slick trails leading from my eyes to my chin. 

Vulnerable--the two of us in this moment.  I saw inside him a little there, and I'm not sure if he realized what he let me do.  He's tired of it all.  I think he wishes he were somewhere else, maybe even someone else.  I saw that.  Perhaps some insight of mine, or maybe it was proclaiming itself boldly.  Did it before?  The last time we met?  I don't think so.  It wasn't that long ago, but somehow I think we've both been through some experiences since then.  He is vulnerable to me right now, opening up, talking to me, telling me those things. 

I realize now that I trust him.  I'm not sure why, but I do.  Had a conversation with JACK awhile ago in which I had come to different conclusions.  JACK thought he was dangerous--to the two of us.  I was probably a little confused at the time.  I agreed with her.  Now, I'm positive I was wrong.  Oh, he is dangerous to be sure, just not in the ways everybody thinks.  Not dangerous to me.  At least not directly.  Still, something inside tells me to trust him. 

"Aran," I say when he's finished, "look at me."  I want him to see me how I am. 

He does, seeing my tears.  What do I see in his eyes?  Those gray orbs peering.  How does he see me?  What colors am I painted with in those monochromatic eyes?  One day.  One day I will find out.  The mystery will be known to me--the mystery of him.

"What is it, syl?" 

"I'm sorry," I say, not knowing what to say, and not knowing why I said that.  Then, before my eyes can release any more liquid,  I find myself scooting closer, snaking my arms beneath his trenchcoat, around his body, pulling myself to him, laying my head on his chest.  Some indescribable need within me made me do it--some craving for physical consolation.  Somehow clinging to Aran, knowing what he is and what he does, satisfies that.  (Don't try to explain it, just feel it, angel!!!)  He doesn't move right away, but then I feel his arms come up behind me, against my back, holding me gently, but there's so much strength there.  So much strength held in check, as if cradling a whistlewisp, fragile and ready to shatter at the faintest tremor.  My ear against his chest, I can hear his inner workings, his heart beating, gears and cogs spinning, fluids racing and rushing, electronics, and I realize how alien he is to me.  How inhuman.

    embrace the technomancer
    embrace the technology
    embrace, and you will become

But he's warm and I don't want to let go, because he's holding me, protecting me and--mind flashes to an alley where...where...where something happened, what was it?  Someone held me and..and...and what?--my mind tells me not much else matters in these seconds.  (Just feel it, don't try to explain the glitch out of it, angel!!!)

I don't tell Aran anything.  Not now.  Not right now.  He wouldn't want to hear that anyway.  I don't tell him stories.  I don't tell him of the witches of wire.  Of the circus and three dead Dokks.  Of the killing.  Of a haven and a fallen Guardian-8.  I don't tell him of the clown who haunts me with secrets. Of calamity.  Of the riots and that dark image on my back.  And of the child, my child.  Of my visions of doom.  Of survival.  I tell him none of this, because I don't have the words.  Perhaps there are no words for how I feel and what I am.  Or maybe I'm just scared.

I realize that Aran is whispering something to me.  I'm sorry.  He's repeating it over and over.  What could he possibly have to be sorry for?  Especially towards me?  Is he even talking to me?  Doesn't make sense, but maybe he doesn't know what else to say.

"I know," I say, it's all I can think of, the most comforting thing.  I find my eyelids heavy, an effect of the food pellets.  The warmness from his closeness is soothing.  I'm sleepy, thoughts dissolving into blurs, and them I'm drifting off before I can say anything else, but the image of chrome, my knight remains behind my eyes and the beat of his heart remains in my ears.

silence....................................................................................................silence

Waking...  I'm awake now, in a bed.  Where?  Ah, eyes opening, a nondescript room, blank walls except for a single white door, bare floor, bare ceiling, bed made of metal hastily covered with a thick blanket, a smaller blanket folded beneath my head.  Couldn't be Aran's bed.  Could it?  It is made of metal...

Still in my skinsuit, but it's been patched, can't see my skin anymore through ragged holes.  I've been patched too.  Wounds feel a little itchy and stiff, but definitely clean.

Standing, I try to run a hand through my hair, but there are three clips there, holding my hair back away from my face.  I remove one and find that it is little and shiny and silver.  Interesting.  My curiosity is aroused at who put them there, but the clip goes back in the blue tangle up there where it can do some good.

Out the door I find myself surrounded by purity, all of them gathered together in this temporary shelter constructed by one of Aran's technomancer companions.  No sonic shower today, something about the necessary parts not being available.  Ah, glitch.

Outside, the first sickened rays of the sun are beginning to show.  The sounds of riots and battles are not to be heard.  Has it stopped?  Doubtful.  Probably just a short cessation in this area.  Smoke hangs over the city like a hand waiting to crush an egg.  Glitched smoke.

Aran swoops from above me, landing with an sense of finality, vibrations from his impact resounding all through my bones.

"Did you sleep?" I ask

"Not last night," he says, his wings folding. Shhhinnk!  "I had a few more problems with a couple of The Pure.  Right now, the wirewitches are giving me less grief.  That'll last--as long as Kreep controls himself."

"Kreep?  I don't remember meeting him."

"He's a technomancer also.  He's a little on the wild side, not to mention unpredictable."

"Unlike you?"  I'm smiling.

"No, just like me.  But control is a thing constantly struggled with when you are a technomancer.  I know this, and I deal with it in my way.  Others deal with this battle in...different ways."

He has a slight flair for dramatics, but I find myself liking it.  "So you--"

But my question never gets asked because Aran suddenly looks over my shoulder, past me.

"Visitors," he says.  Even before I can turn to see for myself he says, "Three of them...all wirewitches."

The three wirewitches are just entering the square to one side when I turn around.  Aran must've known they were there before they were visible.  Technomancer abilities.

"Stay back, I'll handle this," Aran says, pulsing blue lightning beginning to crackle around his hands.  Some new ability?  Don't remember seeing him use this the last time.  Of course, I'm not entirely sure I was watching when he killed that eoa.  His wings are expanded, partially blocking my view of the newcomers.  I duck down a little, obtaining a better look.

Recognition.

"Wait, Aran!" I shout, as Aran moves forward.  "Don't shoot."  All the wirewitches except the obvious leader are beginning to change.  Aran's arms are hissing and popping with some blue energy.  Glitch!  Going to be a fight if I can't put a stop to this.  I'm running now, ducking under Aran's wing and moving in front of him, he ceases his forward movement.  He doesn't quite walk into me, but I can hear that energy crackling behind me, oh so near, his wings in my peripheral vision, almost surrounding me, a blatant display of protection.

"You know these wirewitches?" he asks.

"syl, we have found you at last," the lead wirewitch, JACK, says to me, stepping forward, leaving the others a few steps behind.

"You were looking for me?"  Am I truly surprised at that?  I don't know what I feel.

"You left without warning," JACK says.   "We have been looking ever since."

Ever since?  "I--I had to leave, JACK.  I couldn't stay."

JACK looks at me wordlessly, her hairstalks moving to some unknown rhythm.  "You shouldn't have done that.  I was worried.  When the riots broke out, I was afraid that you had been killed."

Mind tells me that she switched from using "we" to using "I" and that should mean something.  It does.  But I push that down, avoiding.  Looking over JACK's shoulder, my eyes meet with 2-85's.  He's in the form of a weapon, spiked and sharp, but he's recognizable. Avoid.  The third wirewitch eyes me impassively, dangerous in her present state.

"syl, this is PIIX," JACK says, then, just as quickly, her attention moves to Aran, her liquid eyes hardening, agitated.

"Aran, it's okay," I say to my knight, and the crackling fades in intensity, but it doesn't go away completely.

Then the wirewitches are changing back.  2-85 looks exactly the same, and there's a tugging somewhere inside me, in my chest.  Avoid.  PIIX is taller than both 2-85 and JACK, a solitary hairstalk protruding from her forehead, arcing back, resting over one shoulder.

Wait, somebody is missing--the incomplete family.  "Where is--"

But of course my sentence is never finished.  This time it's because the air directly to the left of JACK is sparking, now shimmering, and then Kiiziiziixii appears.  She brushed her hands through those metal snakes on her head and brushes her arms, shivering a little.  Is that a mocking smile on her face?!?  For what?!?  "Hello, (2)syl."

Behind me Aran swears, his hands crackling again, a cold heat fills the air behind me.  Just what abilities does he have?

"How the glitch did you do that?" I say before my mind tells me not to.  The wirewitches aren't shocked.  They knew she was there! Cosmic glitch!

Kiiziiziixii smile fades.  "Sorry, can't tell you that one.  Oh, and I thought I told you to watch your language.  You shouldn't let your tongue run wherever it wishes."

Aran is muttering something behind me, something about not detecting this (grumble) woman.  "You know this lady, syl?"

"Aran, meet Kiiziiziixii."

I can hear Aran's feet shifting.  Did the crackling just get louder?!?  "I'm thrilled."

"She saved my life.  I trust her."  Besides, I still need some information from her.

"Trust fails us often, syl," Aran replies.  "It is a fact you must accept in this world.  Do you actually trust this modie, or are you just trying to avoid conflict?"

Of course I'm trying to avoid conflict! I want to say.  Still...do I trust her?  Truly trust?

"Trust doesn't fail us, " Kiiziiziixii says,  "people do.   Maybe you trust the wrong people, technomancer."

A philosophical debate?  At this time?!?  What is going on?

"Or maybe you don't trust enough?" JACK adds.

"Hypocritical words from a wirewitch, but maybe," Aran says, "it doesn't matter in the end.  There are ways around trust--I've found a few of them.  I'm still alive regardless, trust or no trust."

Kiiziiziixii's reply is lost in the sound of a disturbance coming from the direction of the Rusted Whale.  A technomancer approaching, moving like a charging eoa.  Aran curses, move vehemently than before.  Didn't recognize the swear word, but his tone demands that it be one.  Have to remember that one for later.

"Everyone, stay still," Aran says as he moves to my right--I'm out from under his wings--and confronts the technomancer.  He hasn't released his hold on that blue energy pulsing around his hands.  A knight always keeps his weapons online.  "Kreep, what's the situation?"

My eyes tell me situation is glitched.  Kreep appears to have all of his weapons on display, razors bristling and arms flexing, impossibly clawed hands curved downward, blades for arms flashing.  His hair is a blur, hanging down all over, in his face, catching on all those sharp points plaguing his metal skin.  He's shiny and black all over, red and gray reflections distorted all over his body.  My eyes see his eyes, and I can tell.  I know.  He's mad, struggling to contain something which wants out--is clawing to get out--is going to escape.

"Wirewitch!" Kreep roars, his voice, small explosions.

The wirewitches behind me are changing.  One glance at JACK tells me she's ready for a fight, her body sharpening.  Kiiziiziixii is holding something in her hand.  Can't tell if it's a weapon or not.  She is watching as if removed from the situation.  A war hidden beneath a guise.

Aran holds up his hands, palms forward.  "There is no threat here, Kreep.  No danger.  There is no reason for--"

Kreep takes a step forward.  "Wirewitch!"

"They just arrived, Kreep, calm down."

I step closer.  "Aran--"

"Stay back, syl," Aran says, his eye gleaming.  "Tell the witches to move back."

I give JACK the look, and she nods her head slightly.  The wirewitches back off.  Kiiziiziixii remains in place.

Kreep is not taking this well.  Circuitry glitch, electron pathways colliding.  A blade arm flashes forward, centimeters from Aran's face.  "Why?  Wirewitch!  Why?"

Aran is a rock.  "You have reached the wrong conclusions, Kreep.  Your processors are screwed, and they're feeding you bad data."

"Lie."

"No!" I shout.  Situation dangerous--increasing.

"Lie," Kreep says, his blade swinging close to Aran.  "Wirewitch!"

Aran is a stone.  "There are no others, Kreep.  These are the only ones."

"Lie!!" Kreep screams.  "Lie!!  Lie!!  Lie!!  Lie!!  Lie!!  Lie!!"

"No," I say again, this time to Aran, pleading.  "Don't let him do anything, Aran.  They are my friends."

The blue crackling is pulsing now--ready.  Aran's voice comes, steady as usual.  "You must not harm them, Kreep.  Go somewhere else.  We will talk about this later, I promise.  But you must go.  You will go."

Amazement on my part.  Kreep actually relaxes.  He's considering what Aran is saying--somehow the words got through whatever sanity shields he had up.  His face calms, and he stands a little straighter, not hunched and tormented as before.  His arms lower, non-threatening now.  Kreep's voice is different when he tries to speak with control.  "I..."

    ...storm passing...

    ...no...

    ...just the eye because...

...Kreep takes another glance at the wirewitches and his gaze stops on one of them, wait, what's this?  Recognition? Surprise?  Difficult to interpret.  I can't get my head around to see which one it is he's looking at in disbelief when...

    ...the storm is back...

    ...yes...

    ...repressed anger releasing...

...in the form of a lunatic technomancer screaming the name Ijissa as he launches himself into the air, over Aran, whose blue lightning fills the air, too bright, so bright that I'm blinded.  Then the mad technomancer descends upon me, but in my visually impaired state, I can only see a dark blur and them I'm pushed aside like I'm composed of air.  More blue lightning and shouts and grunts are around me.  Battle, and I'm in the middle of it.  I cover my head, and pray that the metal giants around me don't crush my head.  Movement all around.  Everywhere.  All of it close.  Foot in my back.  A split second pause in the battle occurs and I roll over, springing to my feet.

That's when I see JACK, lying on the ground in a pool of wirewitch blood, Kreep laughing, standing over her, blue liquid dripping from his body in a thousand wicked rivers.

Continued in [a033]: Blood Sun [T-minus 5]

  Post: 09.11.2000
Date: 12.30.2195 
Time: Evening

Continued from [p016]: Talons [T-minus 4]

Demon Apocalypse [T-minus 3]

The world is a hellscape before me.

Tusked and blunt demons fill my vision.

Six-legged chaos creatures roar and kill.

Eoas.  Oh God, not again.  There are more this time.  Can't count them all, moving so fast.  Ground is shaking with their thunder, legs of metal and bone slamming down like small, dull explosions.

I'm not surprised at what I'm seeing, but they took us by surprise, bursting through our perimeter just as the sun started to droop to the horizon.  I knew there would be more of them.  I knew they would find me...unless, of course, it's not me they're--

No time for that now.  I see a couple of them headed toward me.  2-85 is suddenly at my side, hairstalk trailing out behind him almost comically.  His eyes are hard and aware, his skin taking on some shade of purple in the sun's gray-red light.  Something catches in my throat and there's a flitterwasp flapping in my stomach all at once.  The tip of his hairstalk brushes my ankle as he comes to a stop and a ZIP! of lightning shoots through that limb straight to my brain.  What am I feeling?

JACK and the other wirewitch, PIIX arrive at full speed, their approach smooth and graceful, but abrupt.

JACK steps in front of 2-85.  Her skin is speckled with blood--ACCU blood, wirewitch blood, human blood.  Red. Blue. Red.  All the colors of the rainbow.

The two eoas bearing down on me are moving fast, faster than they should be able to.  Mind struggles to comprehend anything living moving with that speed.  Wirewitches are already in their dangerous forms, sliver points of needles extending outward.  The offensive defense.  Skin protrusions poking through their clothes, ruining the alloy-fabric.

JACK touches my shoulder, tense.  "We'll protect you, syl.  Stay with me."  Her face tells me she's nervous.  Don't know how I can see that with those razor shapes poking from her skin, but I can.

"We can run," I say, returning her touch.  Things between us aren't resolved, but now isn't the time.

Her eye catches mine.  "No."

No more running, I think, not for these witches.  JACK has changed, no longer a fledgling wirewitch, grown up now.  It happened suddenly.  Not normal for humans, but for wirewitches...I'm not sure.  But forget all that.  Eoas are in my sight, and they're coming for me.  I brought them here.  They followed, my mind tells me.  Then they're upon us, and the time for thinking is short.

JACK grabs my arm and pulls me to the side with her.  "Move!"  She shouts orders to PIIX and 2-85.  PIIX bolts, stepping past the eoa in front, heading for the one right behind it--attempting to distract it so we're not dealing with two simultaneously.  JACK pulls me again, this time saving my life because the eoa--I can smell its foul smell, rich and wet--is passing me now, only half a meter from me.  Somehow, my mind registers that 2-85 side-stepped and is on the other side of the eoa from Jack and I.  The eoa isn't able to change it's direction fast enough, and JACK moves.  She breaks contact with me, attacking, and she's faster than I have ever seen anyone move.  Just a blue blur.  Her wicked-bladed arms puncture the eoa in a hundred different places, stitching along its side as it passes, and I know that on the other side, 2-85 is doing the same.  The eoa roars, and there's brown goo spurting from its side and legs.

"I need a weapon!" I shout at JACK.  I'm looking around for Kiiziiziixii.  She would have something for me, but I don't spot her in the immediate area.  Glitch.

Something explodes above us suddenly, a small shock wave blasting the air around us.  Without thinking of possible danger, I look up to see one of those ACCU's plummeting toward the ground.  Toward us.  It's on fire.  Even with the battle haze and the night, I can see the red and gold markings on its Triadium armor suit.  But the red on the suit is a little too bright against the night sky.  Wait, it's glowing.  I realize that the ACCU's armor has been superheated. It's going to burn a hole in the ground.  I dodge to one side, away from the eoa that just passed me I think, not sure, didn't look to see where it was exactly.  The ACCU hits, hard from the sound of it.  There's a roar, then heat and then the roar stops.  I turn, JACK's off to my right, and there's smoke billowing just to my left.  It clears fast in some quickened breeze, and I can see...

..oh God...oh glitch...

...a mountain of gore.  It's the eoa.  And the ACCU is buried in its corpse.  I take a few steps closer, involuntarily.  Not too close, the radiating heat is intense.  Curiosity morbid?  The ACCU's helmet is split down the jagged middle, one half falling away, the other half angry with heat and melting into skin, fusing metal and skin.  I see razor-shaved hair, but soft features.  Didn't know there were female ACCU's.  Thought those zealots were all testosterone bigots.  Her face is decaying before me, flowing in rivers from the heat.  Is this what it's like to become a technomancer?  Metal melted flesh?  What an abominable thing.  She's twitching, but I think she's dead.  Too many wounds to survive a fall like that.  Skewered on a bone spike.  Didn't penetrate her chest armor, but it's pressing upward against the underside of her chest plate.  One armored arm is severed--impaling the eoa's head, poking through that massive neck and then out through an eye socket.  Red blood and brown goo is spurting like a sick fountain, hot and intense.  The ACCU and the eoa are an art form--painfull hideous death--unified, merged into a single entity.  The ACCU's red and gold armor bending and jutting from the eoa--a dead mountainous lump sporting a new cavernous impression, split like a moist nightfly egg.  I turn away.

2-85's back at my side.  "Watch yourself, syl.  You're being careless.  It's gonna be hard to protect you if you're like this."

I'm about to retort, but I hear three swishes--swish swish swish--and I feel the wind from the three small projectiles which just missed my shoulder.

"Down!" 2-85 says, pushing my head down.  I'm forced to my knees.  Then, he's off, charging the ACCU which landed about ten meters away--the originator of those projectiles.

Where the glitch is Kiiziiziixii?  I need something to defend myself with. I stand up, keeping head lower this time.  JACK and PIIX are around me now.  Looks like PIIX took care of that eoa she'd distracted.  Can see one thrashing over there, death close and cold.

2-85 returns.  Hairstalk freshly dipped in red.  His eyes are still.  His hairstalk undulates.

"What's the situation?" PIIX asks.  "Can we get ourselves out of this?"

"Not good," a voice says, "and not easily."  Kiiziiziixii. Good.  "I think we could've handled the rioting masses with the help of Aran and his technomancers, but then those ACCU's showed up.  And now, these demon spawned monstrosities..."  Her voice trails as she reloads the nasty-looking weapons in either hand.

"Give me a weapon, Kiiziiziixii," I say.  "I'm worthless like this."

"No. You're not a killer, syl, and you shouldn't be killing."

I can see four eoas off in the distance.  A lone technomancer standing his ground in front of them, a young child in the crook of his arm.  A lone warrior fighting for one who can't.  Kiiziiziixii and the wirewitches aren't any different.  They're protecting me.

"Give her something," PIIX says.

2-85 is shaking his head.  "No, Kiiziiziixii is right.  She is not a killer."

I'm not a killer.  But I have killed.  "I need to protect myself."

"Nobody's going to harm you if we're here," 2-85 says, staring me down.

"Eoas.  Incoming," PIIX says.  "Make a decision fast."

"JACK, we've fought eoas before.  Remember?"

She remembers, but her eyes are stilled.

"Please, JACK.  It's the only way!"

Ground shaking.  Two eoas on a collision course.

"No," she says finally.

Kiiziiziixii raises her guns.  "No more debate.  We've got a situation."

JACK speaks swift commands to the coven.  The witches form a wall against the eoas.  Protect the weakling.

"Stay close to me, syl," Kiiziiziixii says, aiming and firing the weapon in her right hand.  A blob of red light pools at the tip of the weapon's barrel, then explodes, a pulsating stream of energy streaks over the heads of the wirewitches and nails the lead eoa in the head, dead center.  The stream shears off a trench of skin and one deformed eye, bone spikes exposed further.  The eoas stumbles, veering to the left, cutting off and ramming the second eoa.  They both roar in anger and frustration.  Their charge continues.  Carnage impending.

The wirewitches rush forward.  Screaming a grating wail.

Overhead, I see metal wings gleaming in the battle fires.  Aran, pulsing and crackling with that energy--that white blue aura--soars in an arc.  Countless ACCU's pursuing, each one disturbing the air with the whine of their armor through smoke-darkened air.  They hurl death at my Chrome Knight.

And I want to glitch them all.

It's an evil urge which wells deep within me and I--$$GmdEEExxspkkk-- 00599ZZZC DGG!!!!!...!

Static rising up for a second then fading back down.  Pain right along with it.  Vision fades and shimmers.  Optical interference glitch taking over.  Eyelids spasming under brain synapse disruption. Can't think.

When it passes, Kiiziiziixii and the wirewitches are surrounding me again, the two eoas in messy pieces off to one side, closer to me than I can be comfortable with.  I missed the battle.  Static took me offline.  Glitch me.

"Two more eoas flatlined," PIIX says.

Kiiziiziixii reloads while the other wirewitches keep watch--holding the ground we stand on.  She shakes her head,  "Too many more to keep this up.  We're not invincible."

My static attack escaped notice by the others.  Good.

Above, ACCU's rain from the sky.  Their armored bodies bursting with fire and electricity.  They impact the ground, exploding with an insane frequency, their hulking forms ripped apart with primal forces.  Blood and screams erupt from flesh.  Aran soars, alone in the sky for a brief moment.

Down here, the lone technomancer has felled two of the eoas, but he's missing an arm--one of the remaining eoas holding it in its horrible mouth, shaking its head, a frenzied attempt to discorporate the limb into its components.  The child is still alive in the technomancer's arms, but it's crying and holding its head to one side, as if moving it the other way would cause some pain.  Possible concussive blows.

A child in peril.  An ache from within shoots a bolt at my heart.  Body is telling me I need to somehow put myself between the danger and child.  Irrational thought.  Suicidal.  But it's there--an instinct I've never felt before--strong.  Thoughts stray to the life within my belly.

Explosions spew debris, cratering the already scorched earth ten meters on either side of us, pulling my mind back to my own peril.

Kiiziiziixii yells into the air at Aran, who is circling above.  "Play with those ACCU's somewhere else, you steel-brained idiot!  We're in your debris zone!!"  Her hair talons flail as she shakes her head angrily.  Still, she squeezes off two more blobs of red light at the swarm of ACCU's harassing Aran.  Limbs severed.  Bodies fall back to the earth, welcomed with the open arms of skulls split on impact.

Even over the battle roar, I can hear Aran say, "Glitched woman!"  His body flares like a supernova of blue, and all ACCU's within close proximity are forced outward, hit with an expanding sphere of pure force.  Shattered armored body pieces twist and tumble, the last dance.

"How many more eoas are there?" I ask nobody in particular.

The wirewitches don't answer.  Can only hear them breathing, surrounding me.  Between the child and danger.

"Twenty-six," says a technomancer as he passes by us at a full technomancer-speedied run, his voice dopplering.  A crowd of rioters--at least fifty of them--all bio-mechanical children with mutated attennae for eyes rush after him, secreting slime in their wake.  They don't even notice us, intently pursuing their prey.

"What were those?" I ask.  "I've never seen..."

"Escapees from the The Universally Cosmic Circus of Amazing Wonder," 2-85 says.  "They're Gooblyns."

"Horrible little--" PIIX begins.

"They did not choose who they are," Kiiziiziixii cuts in.  "They were created by a branch of Takiyoma.  The experiment failed.  They are one step away from being complete techtrash."

PIIX almost gets her mouth open, but: "You should pity them, witch," Kiiziiziixii says evenly.

I feel static welling up, letting me know that it's still there.  Not going to let me forget.  The only thing capable of drowning it out are the explosions around me.

And the roaring of the eoas.

The ocean, the docks, and the Rusted Whale are at my left.  That square with those decorative markings is off to my right.  Can only think that all this doesn't look the way it did only a day ago.  Now, the battle has inflicted its scars, wounds not to be easily healed.  Riots.  ACCU's.  Eoas.  The place is flowing with blood and bodies--the stench of the dead and the dying.

Aran and his technomancers did what they could--we all did--to block off the main avenues of attack on our position, these few buildings and the nearby docks, but it was a delay tactic at best.  It didn't take long for the riots to reach us.  Then came the Nation of Utopia and their ACCU's.  Maniacal attempts to impose order were futile.  Still, they try.  Still, they die.  Now the eoas have found us. Found me?  Doesn't matter.  They are simply one more variable in the glitched equation that is being applied to this island.

Calamity Carl's words are in my mind: ...you will kill no less than two hundred million people.

Something is going to happen to this island.  Everybody is going to die.

The Bleed.

The creatures are not far off now.  Aran has seen them.  But I don't need him to tell me.  I can see a sick grey light beyond the square, beyond the buildings over there.  It's visible in the battle haze, lighting it up like some transparent, mutated flesh, writhing and flowing unnaturally.  I can feel them coming.

Everybody is going to die.  And if Calamity Carl is right, it will all be my fault.

Shattered out of my reflection by close proximity battle.  A crowd of rioters lies dead at the wirewitches feet.  Streams of red red blood intercept my feet.  Death's liquid icon.

Kiiziiziixii wipes blood that is not her own from her grooved cheek.  "Guess they shouldn't have done that."

JACK nods and I see a small smile on 2-85's face, but it goes away before I realize what I'm seeing.

"I wish the Rusted Whale was ready," I say.  "I want to get out of here."

"The girl has a point," PIIX says.  "We appear to have only one mode of exit from this island, and that means we're in trouble if those technomancers can't fix it."

I can't pinpoint the location, but from somewhere an ACCU is broadcasting: "RETURN TO A STATE OF CALM, CITIZENS OF UTOPIA.  MORE CONTROL UNITS ARE ON THEIR WAY.  ORDER WILL BE RESTORED MOMENTARILY.  THIS AREA HAS BEEN REDESIGNATED AS A UTOPIAN RIOT QUARANTINE PERIMETER."

A winged streak plummets from the sky.  Aran.  With no less than eight ACCU's clinging to him like he's giving them flying lessons.  The blue-glowing mass of silver, gold and red metal collides with one of the few buildings still intact.  Intact no more.  It crumbles inward and downward like it was made of wafercloth.  The earth vibrates under us and afterward there is silence from that direction for a few seconds.  Then, the remains of the building explode upward, a mountain erupting.  Aran, soaring high.  He appears to be on fire.

"What happened to your friend?" PIIX asks.

"ALL NON-CITIZENS AND NON-COMPLIANT CITIZENS ARE SUBJECT TO DEPORTATION WITHOUT TRIAL.  THESE ACTIONS FALL UNDER ARTICLE FIFTY-SIX, DIRECTIVE TEN.  COMPLIANCE WITH CONTROL UNITS IS MANDATORY UNDER PENALTY OF DEPORTATION."

It takes me a second, but I realize that she's talking about: "Phoenix?" I ask.  "I think he's trying to fix his boat."  Saw a group of rioters heading his way a few hours ago.  A few minutes after that I saw them running away.  Guess he can handle himself. But he can't handle me, I think, remembering our encounter with Sahris.

I see the lone technomancer stumble, the child limp in his arm, holding on even in unconsciousness.  The four eoas are dead around him, four mountains of quivering death throes.  The technomancer falls to his knees, head bowed.

That's it.  I bolt towards him.

"syl, what are you--" JACK begins.

I think 2-85 makes a grab for me, but I'm moving fast now, so he misses.

Don't know how I can help, but the witches and Kiiziiziixii will probably follow me.  They do.

I reach the technomancer first.  With due respect to the eoas, I move around to in front of the metal man.  He has a large "7" on his chest.  The number is partially hidden by the young child in his arm.  Lubrication fluid is pumping from the point where his arm was severed.  Tubes and wires hang loose, shorting together and sparking.  He looks up.  One eye is ruined, the sphere cracked and exposed, liquid suspension goo dripping down his metaskin cheek.  Optical fiber conduits protrude from the damaged socket, spilling multicolored light beams which are visible in the dust and haze.  Gears and wires are sticking out all over his body.  He's missing a foot.  I can see it lying over there beneath an eoa's hulking mass.

"Is she alive?" he asks, shifting his weight and raising the child to me, balanced precariously in that one good arm.  The child looks so small compared to the technomancer, almost like a humanoid toy made of synthetics.  Something stops me from actually reaching out and touching the child, but I see her inhale.

"She's breathing," I respond.

I see relief in the technomancer's face, and his body noticeably relaxes.  Mission accomplished.

JACK arrives with the others.  "Stop doing that, syl.  You're risking your life as well as ours."  Her hairstalks twitch, her eyes are swirling storms.  She looks at the child in the technomancer's hand, then back at me, perhaps even angrier now.  Can't fathom what she's thinking.

"I'm sorry, JACK.  I just acted.  Didn't think."

"Let it go, witch," Kiiziiziixii says.  "I think she acted on instinct.  She couldn't help it.  Do you know what I'm talking about?"

JACK looks back at the child, limp and dirty, thin blonde hair matted with brown eoa goo and black lubrication fluids.  "I...I know."

"I'm scared too, JACK," I say.  "And thanks."

Kiiziiziixii takes the child from the wounded technomancer.  "I'll take the child back to the Rusted Whale.  I'd say that syl would be safer back there, but you--"

"--wirewitches are needed to hold back the riots," 2-85 finishes.  "And syl is safer with us than anywhere else."

Kiiziiziixii looks around at the war-torn landscape and shakes her head.  "I'm almost convinced of that.  I'll be right back."  With that, she's off, propelled by bio-mechanical muscles, her body almost a blur, hair tubes flowing out, the child held firmly against her breast.

"What is your name?" I ask, turning back to the technomancer.

He coughs, shivering--never saw a technomancer shiver before--spitting something liquid from deep inside.  "7," he mouths, tapping his chest.

"Are you going to be fixable?" I ask.

7 doesn't answer, but drops to all fours.  I can hear him move--harsh grinding and tearing.  Cogs and gears inside are out of place, rattling metal on flesh.  Bio-melded ligaments have been ripped apart inside him somewhere.  Fibrous muscle bands now connected to nothing.  His body jerks, armor plating falling off.  He begins to crawl over to the dead eoa which is lying on his foot.

He never makes it.

7 spasms, flipping onto his back, arching.  He's in obvious pain, but he's uttering no sound.  Holding the agony in.  Just like a good technomancer.  Don't let them know how much you hurt.  The wirewitches watch silently.

I rush over, kneeling beside 7.  "JACK, signal the other technomancers."

The battle around us intensifies.  Stray projectiles slam into the eoas bodies around us.  The ground moves as somebody sets off something big and the area is lit up like day.  The wirewitches keep watch, daring the fight to encroach on our perimeter.

"JACK, signal the--"

"He's dying, syl.  There's nothing we can do."

"He's a technomancer, JACK!  They go through worse than this to become what they are!!  He can be repaired!"

JACK is shaking her head.  I look to 2-85, and he shakes his head too.  PIIX is walking the perimeter, so I can't see her face.  Something about the way she walks tells me she's paying attention though.  7's one good hand forms a claw, fingers digging through the metal ground plates.  Something inside him is making a high-pitched whine.

Staic rising. Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzing saw intensity increasing.  Look around.  Where are the rest of his technomancer friends?  Where's Aran?!?

7 goes still.  He's still alive, but rapidly moving away from that state.  I can see it in his eye.  Life functions winding down.  I take his head in my hands, and fix my gaze on his.  His eye glosses over in front of me, unfocusing.

Something drops to his cheek, splattering.  A tear.  My own. Glitch.

7's mouth moves.  A single word.  "Angel."  Then he exhales.  Finality.

More drops.  More splatterings.

I sense PIIX near.  She's kneeling down on the other side of 7, her single hairstalk shooting from her forehead, a smooth flowing line, wrapping around back to her feet.  She brings a circuitstream etched hand to the side of 7's face, turning it towards her.  "What is it which fascinates you about this technomancer?  Why do you cry?"

I can't even answer.  The tears hurt too much.

2-85 steps up behind me, his hand coming down to my shoulder, comforting.  I almost grab it.

PIIX continues to stare at the technomancer's face.  "I do not understand your tears."

"You mean you don't remember!" I spit out.

PIIX doesn't answer for a second, then, "I...remember, and that is why I will save this technomancer for you."

Save this...?  "What do you--"  Buzzzzzzzzzzing static.

PIIX grabs 7's head in both hands.  "I will save him from death...and himself."

Too late.  Too slow.  Too stupid.  Too techtrash to realize what was going to happen.  Glitch!!glitch!!glitch!!  In one move, PIIX pulls 7 to a standing position, and initiates a witchkiss, holding him there.  I reach up to push her away, but she stiff arms me, knocking me back into 2-85.  Get up.  No.  2-85 is holding me back, gently, but enough to keep me from moving.

"No, syl,"  2-85 says.

I'm shouting, but I can barely see what's happening through my tears.  "Let me go!  He doesn't deserve this!.  Stop her!"

"You can't interfere with the witchkiss, syl," JACK says from nearby.  "It is dangerous."

"GLITCH!!!!" I swear at the top of my lungs.  Utter frustration.  Can't shake loose from 2-85's strong grip.  I'm forced to watch.  It's just like before.  Like it was with JACK and Q'and'q.  A wirewitch locked in an embrace with her prey.  Like lovers holding each other in a dark alley.

PIIX's hairstalk snakes around 7's upright body, pulling him closer, more secure.  He's passive at first.  Then.  Then he's moving, struggling.  Even through my tear-filled eyes, I can see his eye's frantic movements.  His good arm pulls back, then takes a swing, catching PIIX in the head, breaking the witchkiss and sending her stumbling backward, her hairstalk flailing off to one side.  Amazingly, he is able to stay standing.  He's bending over, confused and dazed.

"Glitchhhhh offff, wirrrrewitchhhh," 7 says, his voice crackling and warped.  "I don't need saving."

"He's alive, " I say.  "He can be repaired."

"It'sssss the techhhhnomacerrr mottttto," 7 groans.

PIIX is recovered, advancing back at 7 with a vengeance.  "Not any more."

"What?!?  Call her off, JACK!!  Don't let her do this thing!"  I turn, looking JACK in the eye.

"There's nothing I can do, syl," JACK says.

"You don't need another warlock, glitch it!  The coven will not accept it!"

"Things are changing.  I did not order the witchkiss.  PIIX did it of her own will.  I cannot stop this."

7 pulled a weapon from somewhere, but PIIX disarmed him easily.  She presses her attack, her hairstalk blurring with movement, battering his chest, knocking him back to the ground.  She straddles him, pinning his limbs, and reinitiates the witchkiss.  He doesn't fight back this time, energy reserves overtapped.

Tears are dripping off my chin.  Tears of anger or sorrow?  Can't tell.  Does it even matter?  I can't affect the situation.  Just an observer to the world around me.  I feel powerless sometimes. Ineffectual.

PIIX breaks off eventually, the deed done, her face still centimeters away from 7's.  I can see tendrils of wirewitch saliva distending from her lips to his.  She's breathing hard, her body lithe and tensed, resting full against his, her eyes closed, hairstalk slithering across the ground like a viper.

The wirewitches watch, ignoring the destructive forces around us, the bombs bursting in air, death's grip threatening to close in on us at any second.

PIIX doesn't move, even as the change begins to happen.  When the first circuit pathways begin to streak through the few patches of bare skin, she hovers over him, watching, physically feeling the transformations in his body.  7's body jerks up, bucking PIIX, but she shoves him back down, refusing to give him space.  His body is rippling with circuitstreams, his armor plating moving over morphing flesh.  His leg jerks, and everything below his knee rolls away, metal component connectors rejected by the technosites coursing through his body.  Wires and tubes snake out of his body, gears and cogs spit out onto the ground, rolling and twirling.  His head lolls to one side, facing me.  The remnants of his damaged eye fall down his cheek, slick and moist with inside fluids.  Streams of some foreign goo trickle from his nostrils.  For a second, the transformation appears to slow.  Then, a perfectly enormous spasm passes through 7's body, causing metal plating to fly from his body, throwing PIIX backward.  Armor plating is hurled in all directions.  One piece spins, catches the ground, and ends up right at my feet.  It's the technomancer's chest plating.  The bold "7" holds my eye, partially obscured by red lifeblood drips and black lubrication splotches.  A thin trickle of technomancer life slides down, pooling against my left foot.  OhGodsavemefromallofthis.

PIIX hits a dead eoa and rolls to her feet, furious.  She steps toward the technomancer, who is now almost completely blue, but the next phase of his transformation has begun, something she didn't expect I suppose.

All over 7's body, bones are protruding, moving outward.

The sharp, technosite-broken fragments jut out from his near-naked body like leaves on a razoroak.  He has bonespikes.  Just like an eoa.  The technomancer's skeleton, as unnatural as his other modifications, is cleansed from his body violently.  7 is jerking and actually manages to get a scream out--more of a roar actually.  In mid-roar, his vocal chords start to grate, vibrating at a new frequency--a wirewitch frequency, grinding and deep, technosites infecting his voice.  Bone fragments spill from his legs and arms, blood seeping in a thousand rivers down to the blackened ground.  One spasm rolls 7 onto his side, away from where I'm standing.  Can now see his spine sticking out of his back, the vertebrae falling off one-by-one, his back a red mess of blood and bone fragments.  His hair is falling out--shooting out actually--and there are large, curved skull pieces being pushed out of his head.

How can a technomancer survive this? my mind shoots.  How can his brain still be intact when his entire skeleton is being pushed out through his skin?

There's something leaking out of his fingertips.  Thin and gooey, barely visible, micro-filament webs of foreign material.  Rejected material of his nervous system, spit out on the earth, pooling at the apexes of his ligaments.

7's body is completely blue now, his old skeleton broken and on the outside.  A thousand fragments of what he once was lie like discarded puzzle pieces around him.  He goes limp, rolling on his back.  I notice the beginnings of a new arm growing where his ruined one had been.  All limbs which had once been replaced with technology, now replaced with wirewitch flesh--a technology of an entirely different kind.

"It's almost over," 2-85 says in my ear.  His course arms are around my midriff.  His grip has relaxed.  Probably because I stopped struggling.

I know what's coming next.  I remember.

They sprout from 7's head in three places, all at the base of his skull.  The silver wires stream like liquid, shooting down the length of his body.  It only takes a few moments for them to reach their full length.  And with that, 7's transformation is complete.  He is a technomancer no longer, but a wirewitch.

God help him.

"Let me go, 2-85, or I swear I'll punch a hole in your stomach," I say, eyes blurred by tears, worse than last time.

2-85 lets go and I start walking.  I think I'm headed toward the Rusted Whale.  Who gives a glitch?  The witches don't follow me, not even JACK.  Maybe they know I'm not in any danger at the moment.  Maybe they don't care.  The battles seem distant to me.  I know they're not, but they seem that way through my tears.

How could I have befriended wirewitches?  I'm a witchfriend.  But I can't stand what they are and what they do.  Irony is something which is obviously comfortable tagging along with me.  I don't like it.  Not one bit.

There's a swoosh, and suddenly my way is blocked by something big--with wings.  Even through the salt water filling my eyes I know it's Aran.

"Why are you out in the open and why are you crying?" he asks.  His body is scarred and blackened in areas.  I know he's currently healing and will be better in a little while, but right now he looks tired.

"I can't take this any more, Aran!"  Tears not stopping.  "It's all too much.  I'm scared!"  I step into his body, unmovable, solid.  He let's me rest my head against his chest.  From this close, I can smell the smoke and dirt clinging to his warrior body.  Metal and metaskin, charred and burnt.  Cloak and clothing letting off semi-irritating fumes, memories of minutes-old wounds.  There's blood, his and other colors staining his neck.  And there's something else.  I can't concretely place it, but it seems to be the smell of energy.  His body still faintly glows at times with that white-blue hue.  It's almost undetectable, but my proximity affords my senses a hint of what is there.

I feel like I'm being enveloped.  His arms are at his sides, but it's his...his wings.  They've come around behind me, a barrier between me...us and the rest of the world.  Tears are stopping, and my hand goes to my hair.  I'm quite self-conscious suddenly.  Can feel dirt and grime in there, but the hair clips seem to have stayed in place, and my hair along with them.  I briefly wonder if Aran was the one who put them there.

"The Rusted Whale is almost ready," Aran says.  "Why don't you get onboard?"

"Is it safe there?"

"Safer than here at least.  The other technomancers are there.  They won't let anything happen to you."

Thoughts race to 7.  The other technomancers couldn't protect him.  They couldn't save him from being made a wirewitch.  There's too much going on.  The battle is being fought on too many fronts.  I don't want to be around when Aran finds out.  I'd probably be forced to defend the wirewitches to keep Aran from doing something.  Don't want to be forced to do that.  "The Bleed are coming, Aran.  We won't be able to stop them or slow their progress.  There will be too many of them by this time.  Are we going to be ready?"

Aran turns my head toward his, looking me right in the eyes.  "We will be ready.  If it comes to it, I'll fly you out of here myself."

Something in me chokes, and I think more tears are coming if I don't control them.  He is willing to protect me.  Why?  Those silver eyes framed by that gray hair.  Don't know what makes me do what I do, but hand goes up to behind his neck, lift myself up on my toes, and quick before he stops me, bring him close, touch my lips to his so softly, almost undetectable except there's now a tingling where my lips should be, and I think Aran tried to pull back at the last second there, but my advance was too fast, can't read his expression now, think I did something unexpected, good.  "Thank you," I say, releasing him, pushing through his wing barrier, walking toward the Rusted Whale, that hulking pile of g'ekk refuse.

After a minute of walking I look back.  Aran is gone.  Back in battle.

On my way back to the Rusted Whale, I see Tyillion.  She's standing off to one side of a circle of mercenaries.  They're guarding something.  The light is low here, even in the glows of the battle and the fires, so I can't make out what it is.  I see what I think is a couple of mercenaries in the center of the circle.  Are they carrying something?  Not enough light.

Dead bodies are piled up in a perimeter outside the circle.  Rioters.  They made the mistake of moving too close to that circle of mercenaries, and now their bodies are discarded on the ground, waiting to rot.  She arrived this morning, and everybody has pretty much kept their distance.  And outside of an initial confrontation, so has Aran.  This confuses me, but they obviously have some history together that I don't understand.  She's dangerous. Think I picked up that feeling from Aran.

Still walking, I see a lone rioter climb over the perimeter of dead bodies and charge the circle, getting off some shots from a small projectile accelerator.  Tyillion barely seems to move, but the rioter suddenly crumples, still a few steps away from her, his head taking a different arc to the ground than his body.  A couple mercenaries move to push the body back away.

Tyillion holds some sort of sword in her hand that wasn't there before.  The deadly female huntress, victorious and calm.

I move past, keeping my distance.  They probably wouldn't attack me.  I am as much a threat to them as a tarokk would be.  Still...

Glitch those wirewitches!  Back in my thoughts.  Anger at what just happened to 7 rises up, and my inability to do anything is a frustrating thing.  Gnawing.  Got to start taking control of my life instead of watching it happen.  Mandatory.  The static is sawing quietly around in my head, content to stay down for the moment.  But still there.  Been there almost all day.

A temporary ramp leads up to the deck of the Rusted Whale.  I climb.  From up here I can see the battleground with a sense of panorama.  There's a small wind invading the night, pushing smoke back over the city.  Still, a haze smelling of blood and char permeates the area.  Slain rioters, ACCU's, and innocent victims lie strewn across my view in random patterns and frequencies.

A few of The Pure wander around on the deck, watching the chaos below and in the distance, being not where they should be--in the bowels of the ship, safe and protected by layers of old metal.  Some are small children, parentless and directionless.  One of the adults huddles in the corner, sitting against the railing, covered in a cloak, face hidden, mumbling, probably praying for salvation from the death this is lurking ever so closely.

There are crimson stains on the deck, where a few of The Pure have met with misfortune, recipients of stray warfare.  Sometimes, no matter what you do to save someone, it isn't enough.  Aran is doing what he can.  It's all too much.  Too many fronts.  He's flying up there.  I see his winged form cut through the smoke with a bullet's trajectory.  Anti-Aran fire originates from down below, lighting up the sky with green plasm explosions.  Shockwaves hit me, micro-disturbances, compressed air flying at my body.  Heart skips a beat.  Aran retaliates, white energy bolts hurled down.

Dead eoas are everywhere.  Various technomancers, all associates of Aran I hope, run around down there tracking down the last visible remnants of those horrible beasts.  I see wirewitches I don't recognize--another coven perhaps--engaged in battling a huge mass of rioters.  The four witches are outnumbered by at least thirty-to-one.  Not good odds, even for wirewitches.  Beyond, the city burns and burns.  It's dying, self-destructing.  The riots increase in intensity and severity with every hour.  Not going to stop till everybody's dead. My fault.

zzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZ  Static rises up a notch.  The war continues, unrelenting.

A Pure child with blonde hair grabs onto my leg, resting his head on my thigh.  The cloaked Pure coughs, a sick sound.  Beneath the Pure's cloak limbs move.  Coughs again.

I turn to the child at my leg, and point at the cloaked Pure.  "Is that your father?"

The child shakes his head, pointing.  "That man is sick."

"Should we help him?" I ask.

"My mom says not to talk to modies and Dokks and Gooblyns and technomancers.  Is he any of those?"

"No," I say.  "He's just like you, only he's got a cough."

"Okay," the boy nods, cutely.  "As long as he's not any of those."

I follow the boy to the coughing Pure.  From beneath the cloak, there's a hissing noise, like he's having trouble breathing.  I kneel down on one side, the boy on the other.

"Do you need some water?" the boy asks, putting a hand on the Pure's shoulder.

The hood of the cloak shakes side-to-side, then raises up, revealing a masculine face attempting a smile.  Not a very good one.

"What's wrong with you?" the boy asks bluntly.

The cloaked Pure takes the child's hand in his, and coughs again, hood jerking.

What's your name?" I ask.  This Pure doesn't smell so pure.  There's a hundred smells--none of them good--coming from beneath that cloak.  Dirt and decay.  Dampness of some liquid.  Is he wounded?

Another smile.  This one's worse because his face cracks.  The skin of his cheek actually cracks--a flesh chasm--and beads of blood begin to drip down his face.

"Ewww--" the boy begins, but--

But suddenly the boy is gone.

And there's a warm shower of blood raining down on me.  The boy is gone.  Shower of blood.  A child's scream is in my ears, but it's muffled, like something is between the source of the scream and me.  I start to get up, but it hits me that the child has fallen over the side, on his way to death.

"Waaaa--" my voice gets out, but I'm slipping backward on my butt.  Failure to achieve a standing position.

Both the cloaked Pure and I are spotted with red.  He reaches to me with one hand, and with the other reaches up to his face.

And pulls it off.

The mask of real flesh--Pure flesh once--is discarded on the deck beside me, the wet sound of gore as it lands.  I scream because I'm looking at an abomination.  Straight from Eiech.  Bile rises, but unsummoned panic is grabbing me by the throat, holding the vomit down.  My hands claw for friction to crawl back from the monster.  Slick fluids coating the deck cause my fingers to find nothing but lubrication.

not a pure not a pure not a pure not a pure not a pure not a pure not a zzz!@#55FFsj((!!!

The abomination's cloak opens, giving me a glimpse of its form.  Humanoid, but I see hints of bands of interweaving fibres, coiling like snakes, stretching and flexing.  And other things, too incomprehensible to make out.  Dark, uneven shapes poking at unnatural angles.  It all seems to be moving, rearranging, enabling movement.  Human it is not.

But that's all I get to see because it's got a hold of me.  A limb composed of shards of glass, cables, metal pipes, and other miscellaneous objects grabs me around my neck, and lifts me up, off my feet.  I reach up to relieve the pressure on my windpipe, holding onto the morphing limb, feeling the coiling wires changing underneath my fingertips.

The abomination lurches to the center of the deck, lifting me even higher, not crushing my neck, just holding me.  The Pure scatter, screaming and fainting.  A couple jump over the side of the Rusted Whale, wailing all the way down, then silencing.  Within seconds, the deck is clear, and I'm sole victim to the monster.

It's breathing.  I think.  It makes the coughing sound again, more violent this time.  I want to close my ears.  Make it stop making that awful breathing sound.

I see it's head rotate, watching the panorama of war.  It strides, my body swaying with every lurch, till it arrives at the front railing.  Then I'm dangling, over the edge of the ship.  Nothing between me and the docks below.  Then...

Then nothing.  The abomination does nothing.  It stands motionless.  Only its body rearranges itself within itself.  It's not doing anything.  It just makes that sound, and coughs  every few seconds.  Triceps are aching, fingers cramping.  My arms are already getting tired of holding up my weight.  Don't know how long I can do this.  Panic is shooting me adrenaline like a piston, but that can only last me for so long.  Eventually, my strength will give out.  I glance.  The creature is still.

I think it's waiting.

Continued in [a034]: Obliterated [T-minus 2]

  Post: 07.12.2001
Date: 12.31.2195 
Time: Evening

Continued from [p017]: Obliterated [T-minus 1]

Obliterated [...]

Life becomes unlife.

On a microscopic level, everything is falling apart.  Solids burst and crumble into so much dust, and then break down even further, into smaller fragments not visible to my naked eyes.  There are sub-atomic by-products pillaring into the air, a fifteen-mile-wide column of expelled energy.  It's a sickened cloud-worm that doesn't as much burn upward as it does pulse, like some dying organ of flesh, wetly exposed, but unable to escape the plateau of cityscape from which it protrudes.  The end of the world as I know it unfolds before me.  The island is quivering and groaning, surrendering to the glitch.

Help me, God, I am in hell.

We're--Phoenix and his partner and I--far away now, far enough at any rate.  Not far enough to not see what's happening though--that would too much fortune to ask for I suppose.  That amount of mercy probably has to be earned, and I'm not sure anybody on this planet is at that point any more.

Broken angel that I am, I'm glad that we made it off.  I'm glad I made it off alive.  My self-preservation is selfishness at its apex, but I will survive to experience another day at the least.  I am breathing, despite the attempts of Sahris, ACCU's, rioters, and The Bleed. But not just me.  The child within lives too.  Somewhere inside me, a newer life is growing--with every moment.

Deep down, disbelief still resides about this.  Surviving has kept me occupied recently.  I suppose that's not likely to stop, but I will have to reason this all out soon.  Many questions about this child.  My child.

Overload.  Emotion confusion.  Thought path reboot.

I'm on a boat--Phoenix's.  Middle of the ocean.  Middle of nowhere.  Middle of who-gives-a-glitch?  It's all I can do to steady myself with my legs, not wanting to reach for the railing.  Not queasy, just off-balance, as if the ocean is waiting for me to let down my guard--and in that moment, it will give a heave, and over I'll go into this big blue wet thing surrounding me on all sides.  Difficult to watch the island's self-immolation with my foundation constantly rolling under my toes.

Don't think this pile of j'aa--Lady Luck--is moving as fast as Phoenix would like--maybe we're just drifting.  Certainly not moving as fast as it did when Phoenix hit his "Plan C" button.  The boat had taken off like it had been shot from a rail gun.  The numerous people clinging to the boat were flung off.  We ran over one of them--I could hear his body grate underneath the hull.  One flew over top of us at just the right angle to be caught in the flame path of the boosters.  There had been some sort of explosion at that point--probably some incendiary grenade he'd  been carrying going off.  Another one--a female--got her hand caught in the railing.  The limb was broken under the pressure of acceleration and mangled enough so that she couldn't let go.  We dragged her until the boat slowed down, K'Thos disentangling her finally, letting her limp form drop into the ocean.  It floated there behind us for several minutes, before strange currents carried it away.  Even Phoenix had been silent for a few moments at that point.  Ah, glitch "Plan C."  I feel like weeping for a few days.  Even though the boosters only fired for about three seconds, it had given us the distance we needed to avoid the majority of the people and beings trying to escape the island's destruction.  Glitch "Plan C."

Still, this thing is moving (drifting?) faster than that other pile of j'aa, the Rusted Whale, though.  Somehow, those Technomancers made it work again.  Not surprising in the least.  Technomancers were designed for two tasks: fixing and destroying.  They're adept at both, although my mind tells me they end up doing far more of the latter.  Still...

Aran saved me.

More than once.  Never forget that.

Thinking of him
    [knightofchrome]
    and there's that flitterwasp in my stomach.  He saved me...somehow...from that...creature.  A small shudder as I remember those coils around my body, caressing my skinsuit, sliding with malicious intent.  It had been waiting, holding me out like a trophy.  I was bait.  Seemed like forever.  Then...what?  Aran appeared from the heavens--like an angel.  No, not an angel.  Something more powerful than an angel, but more frightening too.  I remember...light, harsh, hurtful light--painlight--and a lot of it.  It took my sight away.  Coming from Aran--couldn't tell.  Then: gone.  The creature was gone.  I was on my feet again.  And the child that he had thrown overboard was back on the deck of the Rusted Whale, only a broken arm and nose at the end of it.  But Aran was gone too when my vision returned.

What had he become in those final seconds?  I wanted to call out to him, but something stopped me.  Mind tells me that he reached out to me, wanting to make contact, but he pulled away.  Then the painlight came, taking him from me.

I think he might be dead.

Something inside tells me that Kiiziiziixii and JACK and her coven are on the Rusted Whale.  A comfort to my worry.  I can't be sure, but I can't believe that they wouldn't have made it.  They're survivors, each of them.  Virtually invincible.  Hard to knock wirewitches down anyway.

But KIKA, NAAQ, TERA, 3-43 all fell down.  Yeah, so invincible.  They bleed blue technosite saturated blood, but it's still blood, angel.  Drain enough, and they fade just like everybody else.

The flitterwasp in my gut--or is it just the rocking of Lady Luck?--same thing I feel around 2-85.  What does that mean?

"syl!" the voice says in my left ear.  It's Phoenix of course, too close, taking me from my thoughts.  Not the first time he's been too close.  Predictably enough, I can feel that thing somewhere inside me that wouldn't mind some physical contact--need held by a friend--but not by him.  Not sure he's even a friend.

"What is it?" I say.  I think I hid the irritation in my voice.  I grab the railing with both hands, not turning around, staring at the island and the cloud-worm of smoke.

He moves beside me.  "It's safer down below."

Not this again.  "I know," I say, "but I'm staying up here."

Phoenix is shaking his head.  "To watch that?"

"How many times are we going to go over this?"  Yes, Phoenix, I'm watching that.  I have to don't you understand?

"Well, by my count, I've either hinted at you going down or outright ordered you to do so twelve times.  I like to do things in multiples of fifty, so you can expect to hear from me at least forty more times."

"That's fifty-two.  Not fifty."

"I rounded up."

"How...persistent of you."  It's my fault, you know.  That's why I have to watch.  To see the consequences on my inaction.

"I am cute aren't I?"

"Glitch that," I growl under my breath, low, but Phoenix hears.  He smiles.  The little g'ekk probably thinks I'm flirting with him.  "Let it go, Phoenix."

"You're worried about those witches, aren't you?  They can take care of themselves.  And don't even get me started on those Technomancers!"

"Yeah," I say, "I guess I am worried."  A bright flash to one side of the island as something big--plasma generator or photonic reactor--goes up.  Another few hundred people dead.

I did that.  Oh Calamity, how did you know?!  Doesn't make sense.

"We've got a problem."  It's K'Thos the Exomancer, walking up behind us.  Phoenix takes a step away from me.

"What is it now?" Phoenix asks.  "I swear, if one more--"

"We're losing power.  I have to keep overriding the fusion drive controller matrix to keep it from shutting down automatically."

Phoenix swears.  Loudly.  He puts a hand to his forehead.  "Ahhhh, the fusion drive controller matrix!  I'm not sure what the glitch that is, but if it wasn't going to be that, I'm sure it would've been the retro-accelerator module thingy, or the hyperwave coolant injector thingy, or a huge gaping hole in this son of a glitch, coretrash piece of floating j'aa!!  I should've stole a foreign model!"

"We're not going to be far enough away are we?" I ask.  I look back at K'Thos.

"Perceptive, Blue.  You got a head on you to go with that body, don't you?"

BuzkzKKzKz!$%fff^^^^77789oIu!!!.  Eyes back to the dying island.  Don't want to see his eyes gliding over my curves.  Gitched skinsuits!  All I've worn since I woke up.  In another time, another place--some other planet, I might have taken his comment better than I'm taking it now.  I'm having to resist the urge to charge him and claw something out.  I'm shoving that reaction down deep.  It's not his fault that I've caused the pain I have.  He shouldn't have to suffer an assault from me, when I'm the one who couldn't get off the island in time to prevent its destruction.

"Careful with that mouth, K'Thos," I hear Phoenix say.  "Don't irritate the only female on board.  It is...unwise."

Two fingers on my shoulder.  K'Thos?  No, Phoenix.  "I'll save you.  You know that don't you?"

"I don't need saving."  It's not even an option.

Phoenix's retort is lost in the truly apocalyptic detonation of the entire island.  It's not just a part this time--it's the whole island.  A perfect bubble of light expands like a sphere of pulse shielding, covering the island's expanse, then progressing outward.  The shockwave--that's what it is--moves fast, tearing at the vehicles and ships close to the island.  Some explode instantly.  Others--those with some sort of shielding--are tossed aside, twirling in uncontrolled arcs.  I continue to stare at the onrushing energy wave, unable to take my eyes from it, but my heart is racing, adrenaline up.  It's a thick sphere of energy, glowing with a gray-white color.

"K'Thos!" Phoenix says.  "Get this thing moving faster now!  We need to be farther away!"

"How far away are we?" I ask, gripping the rail harder.  The shockwave is mesmerizing in its raw power.  It's creating a vacuum behind it, sucking water and debris into the air.

"One point two miles," K'Thos says before he drops below.

"Farther, we need to be farther away!" Phoenix says under his breath.  "Get below, syl.  No arguments."

"Too late," I say, the shockwave only fifty meters away.  Looks like I could reach out and touch it.  "Hold on to something."

Phoenix puts one hand on the railing, and the other arm goes around my waist, pulling me sideways to him.  I have time to open my mouth to object before Phoenix turns my head away, and--

--the shockwave hits us.  My entire world is shifted two inches to the left, teeth and brain rattled, whacked to the side.  Hair clips feel like they want to leave my head--wanting to take some of my blue strands with them.  Phoenix's grip tightens, his arm digging into my back and my side.  Something he's wearing on his chest digs into my shoulder.  Think I bit my tongue there--some metallic taste in my mouth, then--

--it's passed us by, still strong, but weakening the farther it goes.  Inhaling, I smell a...a burned smell in the air.

Then.

Dropping.

Whoa.

The Lady Luck is falling into a hole where there was water only a second ago--swept away by the shockwave, a wake of air.  My feet actually leave the deck for a moment, but Phoenix has me, making sure I move with the boat.  He grunts with the effort of maintaining his grip on the railing.

"Ride's not over yet," Phoenix says.  "Going up!"

For a second, I see walls of water on all sides, and the image comes to me that we're in the mouth of some huge water beast about to close its mouth around us.  Our descent stops, and now we're being shoved back up, water rushing to fill the hollow.  We rise even quicker than we fell, the Lady Luck not quite leaving the ocean's surface as we peak.  We splash down and the boat lists to one side for a few moments before righting itself.

"Did the boat hold together?" I ask, removing Phoenix's arm from around me.  My skinsuit looks like the outer layer has been scorched off.  It's even smoking in some areas.  Skin feels fine though.

"Looks like it, but I'm sure she'd be doing a whole lot better if that techtrash Ta-Kyn hadn't disassembled her!  There are always parts left over when you put something back together.  He missed something.  Whatever it is, I'm sure it'll be a glitch to replace."

"At least we're not sinking," I say, wondering if it's true.  Don't see water bubbling through the deck at least.

K'Thos pops up from below.  "She's correct again.  The hull looks intact. As long as any nearby Zannathans leave us alone, we should be able to make it to the mainland.  Oh, and a strong wind to blow us the rest of the way would help."

"Yeah," Phoenix says, "then we'll have to deal with what's waiting for us on the mainland."

"Which is?" I ask.

Phoenix and K'Thos share a glance.

"What is waiting for us on the mainland?" I ask again.

Phoenix shakes his head.  "Trust me, you don't want to think about it right now.  Give your mind a rest.  Take a few deep breaths.  As much as I like holding you against me, I'd rather not do it when you're shaking and crying with depression like you women seem to like to do."

StatikklzKzfnnnspzzzzz  "Phoenix...," I begin.

"Not now, syl.  Please."

I'm getting annoyed, and I don't like the feeling at all.  The mind static starts to buzz back in.  I've had a couple of blasts today--all relatively short.  This feels like it's gonna last for awhile.  A background sound at the moment, but I'm starting to feel it in my jaw, right underneath my ears.

"You can tell me later then, Phoenix," I say, trying to will the static to recede.  "Oh, and thanks for keeping me on my feet."  zzzzzzkzkzkZZZKKKK!

Phoenix almost has a chance to respond, but

I think he sees my eyes go wide and my mouth drop open because I glanced over his shoulder and I now realize that I can't see the island anymore because it's gone totally gone not a molecule left only that's not really true because the reason I can't see the island is that there is a perfectly enormous wave of water blocking my view of it and that wave (so...so...big) is going to hit us in about fifteen seconds and there's no chance that the Lady Luck can get us out of its way or even outrun it and I can't take that glitched static intensifying up to a chattering roar like it just did and oh I'm not sure at all if we can survive that thing hitting us.

ZZZZZ Not ZZZZZ sure ZZZZZ at ZZZZZ all ZZZZZ

"Oh, glitch!"  Don't know who said that--Phoenix or K'Thos.  Static has overpowered their voices.  But their faces are frantic.

They're scared.

K'Thos is already moving toward the controls, shoving us to full throttle.  I let my knees give, taking me to the deck as Phoenix braces himself against the railing.  The Lady Luck lurches forward--or is it just my imagination?--then stops.  We're not moving at all.  She's out of power to give.  Somebody want to get out and push?

So fast.  That wave is moving so fast--not as fast as the shockwave which proceeded it--but fast nonetheless, coming up behind us.  Got to be at least fifty meters high.  The island exploding birthed two devastating waves, but I think this one will be far more devastating.  It'll swamp us.  Knock us unconscious.  Drown us.  I'm seeing spots in front of my eyes, black holes because the static is sawing my head in half.  I'm on the verge of passing out.  Want to close my eyes and shut it all out.

Can I swim?  I think I'm about to find out.  Another few seconds, just another few seconds.

I feel Phoenix grab my hand.  He yells right in my face, heedless of some spittle running down his chin, trying to tell me something, but I can't hear his last words to me.

As the wave overtakes the boat, tossing us forward and upward, Phoenix's hand slips from mine and then he's gone, spinning into the air.  I see K'Thos below, still on the Lady Luck, looking up at me in horror just as the boat flips, knocking K'Thos to the side with a spurt of red (was that a limb I saw breaking?) and then he's swept from my view by the torrent.

The wave takes me, and it's like getting hit with a planet.  It's a killer and it's merciless.  I'm chilled to my core in a blink, but feeling becomes numbness.  The static bursts like explosions in my mind.  Can only think of two things while my mind is obliterated and my consciousness goes from blue to black:

Unborn baby.

Calamity.

Then, in the end, I die.

Here ends DOWNfALL: Obliteration

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